Kids in Action: Teaching Ideas for The Floating Field
The Floating Field
Written by Scott Riley, illustrated by Nguyen Quang and Kim Lien
Published by Millbrook Press
Grades 2- Up
“What’s most important is that anything is possible. And as a community or team, you can overcome incredibly impossible odds.” So writes Prasit Hemmin, a founding member of the Panyee Football Club, at the opening of The Floating Field. In the 1980s, the boys on the island of Koh Panyee in southern Thailand had no space to play soccer/football with any regularity. Twice a month, during the low tides, a sandbar emerged upon which they could play for a short period of time. But the 1986 World Cup tournament served as a catalyst for change. The boys decided to create their own soccer field on the only available space they had: the waters of Phang Nga Bay. Using recycled objects from land and sea, the boys created a floating soccer field. Riley’s debut nonfiction picture book is bookended by the viewpoint of Prasit Hemmin, who continues to live on Koh Paynee, and whose son has participated in the now championship-winning football club. The above quote begins the book and “Prasit’s Perspective” follows Riley’s author’s note in the extensive back matter. Within the author’s note, Riley discusses the process by which he worked on the manuscript in close consultation with Hammin; he shares additional information about contemporary life on Koh Panyee. Quang and Lien’s fineliner pen and Photoshop illustrations bring the island of 1986 to life, and through shifting vantage points throughout the book, they center the boys’ agency and energy as they problem-solve and persevere through challenges. Book designer Viet Chu’s choice of a range of blue colors on the cover, end pages, and backmatter creates an immersive experience for the reader. Ideal for explorations of agency, language, environment, and sports participation, The Floating Field reminds us that children and communities are their own best agents of change.
Teaching Ideas and Invitations
Note to our Readers: These ideas are not meant to be prescriptive. Choose one. Choose more. It’s up to you. Some ideas are bigger and will take a number of days to complete. Some are shorter. You can also choose to complete one part of a teaching idea, but not the whole thing. It’s up to you!
Clubs in Your Community. The Floating Field – a work of historical nonfiction, focusing on the actions of a group of boys over thirty years ago – is framed with Prasit Hemmin’s voice as an adult. In “Prasit’s Perspective” in the back matter, Hemmin looks back on the creation of the floating field and what it evolved into: a championship-winning football club in which several generations of Koh Panyee residents have participated as players and coaches. What sporting leagues, theatre groups, dance, visual art, yoga, or martial arts studios exist in or just beyond your community? What is their history? When were they founded? By whom? Have students research these organizations. Support students in making calls or sending emails to schedule video conference or outdoor/socially-distanced interviews. Help students create a framework for their interviews, with variation for the different organization leaders they will be interviewing. Have students choose to write a history of these organizations, or, to follow Riley’s lead and create a narrative about an important moment in the organization’s history. Students can ask for copies of photographs and newspaper articles the organization’s may have, to create their own illustrations, perhaps modelled on some of the stylistic choices (such as shifting vantage points) made by Nguyen Quang and Kim Lien. Ask students to consider how they would like to include the voices of the subject’s they interview within the book and/or if they would like to co-author their books with their interview subjects.
Global Kids Create. In The Floating Field, we learn about how the group of boys on Koh Panyee built their own floating soccer field in 1986, spurred on by their love of soccer, inspiration from the 1986 World Cup, and their own know-how and ingenuity. What are some other ways that children, tweens, and teens have created what they need to pursue their passions and hobbies? After sharing The Floating Field, have students read Ada’s Violin: The Story of the Recycled Orchestra of Paraguay, The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind, Trombone Shorty, and the fictional The Banana Leaf Ball: How Play Can Change the World, based on a real person and The Patchwork Bike. What are some of the similarities across the books? What are some of the differences? What are the similarities and differences between the lives of your students and the lives of the young people depicted in these books? What kind of inspiration can your students draw from the young people on these pages? What might they be able to create in order to pursue new interests or hobbies in your school community? How might they access available resources? Or, what might they do to further access to athletics and the arts for young people in another part of the world?
Vivid Verbs & Shifting Vantage Points: Writing and Illustrating Performance. At various points in The Floating Field, the game of soccer/football is depicted through both words and images. Riley uses rich action verbs such as weaved, bounced, raced, trapped, dribbled, and sailed. Illustrators Quang and Lien reveal shifting vantage points and dramatic angles throughout the book, so the reader experiences the field and the game from foot-level, eye-level, and bird’s-eye views. Provide your students with an opportunity to write about a “performance” of something they love, whether it be a sport or an art form. Gather together a range of videos of local sports teams (club, school, or professional) and local performances (singing, dancing, theater, magic) and allow students to view their performance of choice. You could also offer young people the opportunity to share clips from their own performances and games. Or, students could attend an event at your school or in your local community and record original video and still photographs using phones or tablets from different positions around the court, field, or performance area. What do these different perspectives allow them to see? Have students select a five-minute clip that they are going to bring to life through several pages of text and illustration. As they support one another composing and revising their short pieces, emphasize the role of vivid verbs and shifting vantage points and perspectives in bringing the drama of the moment to life.
Floating Fields and Urban Gardens. In The Floating Field, the boys of Koh Paynee create a floating soccer/football field in order to play the game more frequently. They use the space available to them: the ocean water that surrounds them. After reading The Floating Field, share Harlem Grown, a nonfiction picture book about creating an urban garden in New York City’s Harlem neighborhood, and It’s Our Garden, a nonfiction photo essay about creating a school garden. Students can learn more about Harlem Grown from the organization’s website. As in our “Global Kids Create” teaching idea, ask students to consider your local community on and off school property. What kind of inspiration can your students draw from the people on these pages? What might they be able to create in order to pursue new interests or hobbies in your community? How might they access available resources to make that happen?
Rules to Fit the Situation. When the boys on Koh Paynee created the floating field, they needed to create a new set of rules for playing soccer. For example, whoever kicked the ball into the water had to go and retrieve it! Ask your students to share some of the ways that they play informally with others. Who do they play with? Friends? Neighbors? Siblings? Cousins? They may play these games during recess at school, in apartment building hallways and basements, in urban and suburban backyards and alleys, or open fields or woods in more rural areas. Regardless of setting, what rules do they make? Why do these rules exist? Who makes the rules? Do the rules ever change? If so, who has the power to change the rules? Why? Why do rules matter when playing games? How do rules help support a community? Hurt a community?
Your Community and the Natural World. In The Floating Field, readers learn that on the small island of Koh Paynee, young people only had the space to play soccer twice a month, when the tides were low enough to make a sandbar accessible. What are the ways that the natural world shapes your school and local community? How do the seasons shape the natural and human-built landscape? Do the seasons shift dramatically or are they barely noticeable? How are the pre-existing parks and fields in your community built to take advantage of or to stay clear of certain environmental factors? If possible, take your students on a walking tour of one of these parks, playgrounds, or fields, with tablets and/or clipboards. Have them take notes on how things are built, out of what material, and why. What improvements or changes could be made? Why? What problems do the students experience in trying to play, swim, or compete on these properties? Invite town or city officials to meet with your students via video conference or in a socially distanced manner to hear student ideas for improvements.
Floating Field Duet: A decade ago, an international marketing firm, TMB Global Brands, created a movie about the boys from Koh Paynee’s construction of their soccer field. After reading The Floating Field with your students, have them watch the five-minute fictional movie (with young actors playing the boys from 1986). How are they similar to and different from one another, as different genres (nonfiction and fiction) and modalities (book versus movie). Do students notice any differences in how the boys and their community are represented within the book and in the fictional movie? Have students review the available sources shared in the book’s bibliography (included in Further Explorations below).
Grades 6 and Up
Poverty and Access to Sports. Use The Floating Field as a starting point for a larger conversation about access to sports in the United States, where income inequality has risen sharply over the last forty years. Research from the U.S. Census Department in 2020 shows that children who live in poverty are less likely to participate in a range of programs from sports to the arts. In 2019, CBC News reported that children from both middle class and low-income families are no longer participating in sports at previous levels, while the participation of wealthy children rises. The Aspen Institute’s Project Play provides additional facts about the barriers that exist between children and organized sports in the U.S. In a 2017 story, The Atlantic provides an in-depth look on the consequences of income inequality when it comes to sports participation. Have students explore these texts. You can have small groups each read just one text, or have all students read all texts – whatever makes sense for your class. Support students as they make sense across the different sources. Have them tease out the causes of decreasing participation in sports as well as the consequences of this decrease. What is sports participation like in your community? What are the barriers? Have students brainstorm ideas to increase participation in your local community, bringing in local officials such as school board members and other community leaders to help problem-solve.
Online Resources from the Back Matter:
Other Online Resources:
Connection Between Poverty and Access to Sports and the Arts:
Ancona, G. (2013). It’s our garden: From seeds to harvest in a school garden. Candlewick Press.
Andrews, T. (2015). Trombone Shorty. Ill. by B. Collier. Abrams Books
Clarke, M.S. (2019). The patchwork bike. Ill. by V.T. Rudd. Candlewick Press.
Hood, S. (2016). Ada’s violin: The story of the Recycled Orchestra of Paraguay. Ill. by S.V. Comfort. Simon and Schuster.
Kamkwamba, M., and Mealer, B. (2012). The boy who harnessed the wind. Ill. by E. Zunon. Dial Books.
Milway, K.S. (2017). The Banana leaf ball: How play can change the world. Ill. by S. Evans. Kids Can Press.
About Mary Ann Cappiello
Mary Ann is a professor of language and literacy at Lesley University. A former public school language arts and humanities teacher, she is a passionate advocate for and commentator on children’s books. Mary Ann is the co-author of Teaching with Text Sets (2013) and Teaching to Complexity (2015) and Text Sets in Action: Pathways Through Content Area Literacy (Stenhouse, 2021). She has been a guest on public radio and a consultant to public television. From 2015-2018, Mary Ann was a member of the National Council of Teachers of English's Orbis Pictus Award for Outstanding Nonfiction (K-8) Committee, serving two years as chair.
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